After a good night’s sleep in our room at Meson de Leyendas, we ate a lovely buffet breakfast in the patio area of the hotel restaurant again. Fresh papaya, pineapple, yogurt, granola (with all the toppings), waffles, coffee and fresh squeezed juices hit the spot before another day of driving. From Valle de Bravo, we drove in the van back towards Mexico City with a stop at La Cabana del Oso (a roadside restaurant) for a lunch of Seta mushroom soup and squash blossom quesadillas. The soup was soothing on a wonky belly. 🙂
Back in the van after lunch, we were off again and stopped
in Toluca to visit the Jardin Botanico Cosmovitral (the
botanical gardens inside a building with the most incredible stained glass art
installation I’ve ever seen in that style).
Designed and created by Leopoldo Flores (1934-2016), this museum of sorts houses stained
glass windows all the way around the building as well as across the
ceiling. And, in themed sections all
around the indoor botanical gardens are flora from all around the world,
including an Asian Zen garden and cacti from the local area. The stained glass tells the story of
Humankind’s journey – and the battle of darkness and light, good and evil. Birds are represented in the glass – the wise
owl and the eagle (a strong symbol of pride in Mexico).
It was a great place to take a moment, take a breath, and
enjoy the morphing colors as the sun penetrated the stained glass creating
varying palettes on the plants.
Constellations speckled along the ceiling blend with the other designs
leading to the large installation at the far end of a man and a woman. The spiral between them is representing our
galaxy – a pattern echoed in the woman’s womb.
has a bit of a London vibe – except for the largest “mural” in the world living
on the exterior walls of the residents houses on the hill. It’s definitely worth a visit.
Our second morning in Valle de Bravo, we got up again at 7:00 and went out to the patio for a quick buffet breakfast at 8:30.
We were back on the bus and headed to Piedra Herrada Butterfly Reserve. My Horse was named Colorado (coincidentally, as I’m from there) and his handler was Pablo…a hard working man who did his very best to motivate the horse up the steep hill.
This area of the Monarch Butterfly Biosphere was more like what I expected from seeing the documentary. Thousands and thousands of butterflies clustered in the trees in a most magical way.
One of our guides, Carlos, is a Biology graduate student who provided us these great links to more details about the flora and fauna in the Valle de Bravo region:
Our next morning was Valentine’s Day and we were headed to the butterfly sanctuary.
When my children were little and taking Music Together classes and watching “Dora the Explorer”, I heard this folk tale about a butterfly, “La Mariposa”, in which animals enamored by the butterfly would say “Mariposa, Mariposa, will you marry me?” (There’s a bilingual children’s book you can check out that tells the story HERE if you’re interested). That sing-songy phrase was in my mind as we headed to see the butterflies.
We got up at 7:00 and then were out in the patio area of the restaurant by 8:00a.m. for a buffet breakfast of fruit, granola, fresh squeezed juices, fresh hot coffee, and waffles. By 9:00, we were boarded in the bus and on our way to the Monarch Butterfly Reserve.
It took about an hour and a half to reach the reserve. Once there, we paid to pee and then were assigned our horses. My horse for the day was named “Rosito” and his handler was Francisco. The handlers lead the horses up a two mile trail (going up a few hundred metres) to a clearing where we saw thousands of monarch butterflies fluttering around. Trotting along the rocky, dirt path, we were in a flow of orange and black flitting.
Our guides said they had never seen so many just flying around like that. After a lovely, long rest enjoying the Monarchs, we remounted our horses and continued up the mountain to a trail where we dismounted our horses and hiked down and over to a most amazing viewing spot.
The butterflies, clinging like barnacles on the tall, old growth forest trees blended in in perfect camouflage, while others fluttered around, some seeking water in the river below and some seeking nectar in the salvia.
We can help the monarchs with their survival, growth, migration
and breeding by planting milkweed, tithonia,
brush. Here are 10 suggestions of
flora to plant to help and attract butterflies:
On Day 3 of our Reefs to Rockies exploration of Mexico, we toured a vanilla plantation in Guiterrez Zamor (about a four hour drive north of Veracruz). A lovely señora, Sylvia (with our guide Jorge’s translation), explained in loving detail how the vanilla plants are grown, harvested, beans processed and sold.
When we arrived in our 18 person van, we unloaded and walked up a steep walkway past beautiful murals and cypress trees stretching towards the heavy, grey sky. The vanilla plantation was founded by “finca” (estate boss) Orlando Gaya who immigrated to Mexico from Italy in 1873. Since then, the plantation has been operated with organic quality and purity as the highest priorities.
When we visited the orchid museum in Coatepec, we learned that vanilla is an orchid (which means “testicles” because of the shape of the bulbs). The two vanilla orchid plants grown at the Orlando Gaya Vanilla Plantation are Planifolia and Pompona. Planifolia’s flavor is a bit bitter, but the aroma is like chocolate. Whereas Pompona smells like prunes and tastes sweet. Vanilla likes to grow on two types of trees: Phichoco with its red seed pods (which we saw at the botanical gardens outside Coatepec) and the pequeena (a.k.a. Mexican bamboo). They can also grow on coconut trees (or Erythrina lanceolata) Sylvia described the vanilla plants as the “princesses” and the trees they like to grow up as the “princes”. They have a very mindful, symbiotic relationship in which the female vanilla plant nurtures the protective male trees.
vanilla plants are very sensitive and will actually switch genders if they are
exposed to too much stress.
As we walked further along the path, we saw the shade houses where these plants are painstakingly nurtured and tended. These plants have become extremely high maintenance over time and must be hand pollinated one flower at a time. The tenders use a thin bamboo stick to spread pollen from one bloom to the next and it takes about a month to hand pollinate 6,000 plants. They say that these vanilla plants have become “lazy”. The hope with some of the experimental plantings at this vanilla plantation is to make these precious plants more resilient. Interns are working to assist in this process.
vanilla orchid, once planted, takes 2 ½-3 years to produce flowers. Then, once pollinated, the flowers take nine
months to produce the vanilla pods/beans.
Only the healthiest are harvested and as the workers find fungus, worms
or other disease, those plants are sterilized to prevent the spread of the
The newer 19 to 25-year-old workers at the vanilla plantation get on-the-job-training as they are taught to pollinate, investigate, nurture, pick, inspect, separate, process and package the vanilla pods. Separation happens along a long conveyor belt and the pods are divided into hierba “grass”, pezon “nipple”, quebrados “broken”, and entero “complete”. The less perfect ones are used for ice cream and other vanilla products where appearance is not as important. Every step along the way, they are making sure it is a good, disease, pest and chemical-free product.
picked and separated, the beans are dried on mesh racks, put in a sort of
“sauna” for three days, then dried further over the course of six months in a
large room, regularly inspected, wrapped in blankets and kept safe. Once they are perfectly ready, they are
divided yet again by level of quality and processed into bags of seeds, powder,
pods, etc. and “vaulted” in stainless steel boxes behind cages, in a building
with bars on the windows and electrified wires.
Finally, the vanilla is inspected in a laboratory for a final
inspection. At US$5/vanilla bean, we can
now understand why they take such painstaking care to protect them.
touring the processing facility, we were given a sample of a drink made with
equal parts vanilla liquor and sweetened condensed milk (and ice) called beso
totonaca (from the name of the Beso Totonaca Kingdom).
you would expect, our tour ended in the gift shop where they sell many vanilla
products (extract, beans, candles, ice cream and a liquor (Xanat is a brand
they sell here)).
A good Mindfulness practice includes gratitude so it is good to acknowledge and thank the vanilla and its tenders for the patient process which it goes through to arrive in our chocolate chip cookies, cakes, coffees, ice cream and more.
We recently had a fruit fly infestation…in our kitchen. The solution ended up being a “fruit embargo”…and a fruit fly trap made of a cup of water, a couple tablespoons of apple cider vinegar and a few drops of dish soap (eco-friendly, of course) in a glass set on the kitchen counter until nay a fruit fly remained airborne. Generally Buddhist, I go out of my way to save all living creatures, including spiders and ants. But, not fruit flies in my house…and not Japanese beetles. Japanese beetles are pure evil in the garden. They decimate beautiful roses and destroy food crops.
It’s not just about fruit flies…
Similarly, I recently had a sort of panic attack due to a “to do” infestation. I always have a lot on my “To Do” list, and I manage. But, this was borderline panic after hearing a feng shui theory that every thing we have has a string attached to us. Every. Thing. (Yes, even the stuff in the closets, attics and basements…and storage units). Visualizing that made me panic. No wonder Marie Kondo has sold multiple books about decluttering and now has her own TV show!
Now, I have a fairly decluttered home, but lately piles have
started accumulating as I’ve been renovating my new office space and working
more out of the home. Heck, even working
in the home, it was hard to keep up with the piles. Fostering kittens lead to pretty much every
towel we own being out of the linen closet.
But, similar to the fruit embargo, I decided to conduct a
panic embargo. Panic, stress and fear
are counterproductive emotions. They are
very real and can be crippling (think “fight, flight or freeze”). I sat down with my “To Do” list and parsed
out what I can realistically do today, this week, this month and in the next
six months. Some things are more urgent
than others (bills and library books have due dates, but signing up for that
paint ‘n sip class with my husband does not).
I’ve recently been challenged with coming up with four fun things to do
in the next two months. So, although not
urgent, those absolutely are important.
Remember to Breathe…
My point is that sitting down, taking some deep breaths, being gentle with myself and thinking “what is realistic, what’s urgent and what can I let go of?” helped. So, I blocked out some time to tackle ONE pile of papers and get the linen closet back together. AND, since my marriage is important, I scheduled time with my hubby…it ended up being a Thai dinner date and snuggling back home with a movie I think we both wish we could un-see, but it was wonderful just the same.
The movie was Burn
Before Reading, by the way. Guess we’re
just not the dark humor / Pulp Fiction
/ brain matter splattered on the back of the closet wall type.
I leave you with this: if you end up with an annoying fruit fly infestation, there is a way to deal with it. And, if you find yourself overwhelmed with your To Do list, there’s a way to deal with that too. Take a deep breath, come up with an action plan and follow it through. Everything gets done eventually (or it falls of the task list because it didn’t matter that much anyway). And, well, fruit flies are just another source of protein. 🙂
Sometimes it is a bit challenging to practice mindfulness at home with your family. But, sometimes it’s also as simple as adding in a new ritual.
It can be starting a habit of one minute of gratitude and/or kind thoughts after you get in bed. Or, taking a Mindful minute of deep breaths before you start to go to sleep. Using calming music or a Mindfulness app can be beneficial before sleep as well.
Here are some apps I recommend to our mindfulness students:
But, the reality is, you don’t need to install and app or listen to a YouTube video to practice mindfulness. All you need is your lungs and they are free and they are always with us.
Bring it to the Table:
Another option is to create some routines around shared meals. So, at the family dinner table, you can take a minute to breathe before beginning the meal. Or, everyone can take turns saying one thing they are thankful for that day. Setting the expectation that everyone is to focus on the person speaking is another way to be mindful.
Children, but humans in general, thrive on routine. So, creating a regular mindful activity can really benefit our children, but ourselves as well.
It doesn’t have to be complicated. It doesn’t have to be “perfect”. Just give it a go!
If you want to dive deeper, here’s another great article about mindfulness apps:
We are super addicted to packaging in modern society. The item we are really purchasing is sometimes wrapped in plastic and again in a plastic container. And, again, plastic (although recyclable in most cases) is not biodegradable. So, today I’d like you to invite you to make something on your own that you normally buy in a container.
Try making your own.
Here are some examples of products you can make at home:
To make this easier, I am providing a couple recipes, but feel free to do your own research and get creative!
When I was growing up, my mother made her own bread, refried beans, cookies, cakes, etc.
As I’ve become a mother, I’ve learned about canning, juicing and making my own household cleaners and tea.
Yes, it’s more time consuming than just running to the store. But, can you turn it into an exercise in Mindfulness? Being aware that by making your own bread, you know where the ingredients came from, you know how it was handled and prepared. And, you can put the love in!
I keep a little spice container by my cooktop labeled “LOVE” and as I am cooking, I sprinkle a little into the dish I am preparing. It’s technically empty, but it is a reminder to get present to what I am doing and be Mindful of my current activity. Sometimes I’m in a rush and forget. But on those days, the meals are definitely not as delicious to my family or myself.
1. an informal social gathering at which coffee is served.
Today’s challenge is to have coffee (or tea) with someone at home or at a cafe and make a mindful connection with them. OR, have a coffee date with yourself. Can you make a new friend?
Whichever you choose, be sure to bring your own mug or ask for a “for here” mug so there isn’t any waste.
Most of my meetings these days happen over cups of a hot drink – coffee or tea. Because we are involved in the same activity, it creates a space for connection and communication.
In the spirit of Mindfulness, you can be Mindful in the way you enjoy your cuppa. Sit with your cup of warm beverage. Observe the steam rising from it. Observe the color. Make these observations as though you are an alien or a child and have never seen coffee or tea before this moment. Smell the aroma. What do you notice? Feel the warmth of the mug with your hands. Do you like milk or sugar, honey or lemon? Each of these changes the original beverage. I like my coffee with almond milk and agave nectar and for the color to be a beautiful caramel tan color.
Can we settle in to these moments and let them be little gifts to ourselves?
We are nearly halfway through this challenge and today is about taking some time for ourselves.
There has been a lot of discussion in the last few years about this thing called “Mindfulness”. In this world of smart phones and free wi-fi, it can be challenging to find stillness. The more busy schedules get, the more we are expected to multitask, eat on the go and rush through life, the more Mindfulness is desired.
What is it exactly?
Mindfulness is “being present and aware in a moment without judgement”.
That’s it. Getting still and letting our nervous systems settle is critical for balancing ourselves. If you can sit up in a chair with feet on the floor, place one hand on your belly and one on your chest. Close your eyes. Feel your belly, then your chest, rise and fall naturally, listening to the air come in and out of your lungs. As you repeat this, try counting to five on the in breath and down from eight on the out breath. Then repeat for a few, slow, deep breaths. Do this for a minute any time you need to reduce anxiety, calm down and focus. This is a great breath pattern for settling down to sleep at night as it is calming.
A lot of scientific research has shown that Mindfulness helps improve focus and concentration and reduce stress and anxiety. And the most beautiful thing about it is it’s just breathing. And, we have our lungs with us from the moment we are born until the moment we die. They are always with us and they are free. Finding our breath puts us in a happier mood, helps us sleep deeper, reduces anxiety, helps our hearts be healthier, and improves our air intake among other benefits.
The beauty of Mindfulness being trendy in the information age of smart phones, the Internet, tablets, and iPods is that there are free and low-cost apps available to guide us through Mindfulness meditation.
Some of the more popular apps are*:
The Mindfulness App (free)
Buddhify (Price: iPhone, $4.99 and Android, $2.99)